The Honeymoon is Over

It appears that I fell into my old trap this summer. As usual, I drank the kool-aid. I bought into all the malarkey that Mike Riley and the Big Red hype machine was selling. Hook, line and sinker. All the good vibes about energy and positivity had me feeling that this team in general, and this defense specifically, were primed for a very good fall. Through 2 games, those illusions of grandeur are long gone. That was evident as I sat in an isolated corner of my house at halftime with the score 42-14. I then wrote the following:

I spent the last 6 days looking for reasons, rationalizing why the defense was inadequate against Arkansas State. I looked at stats like yards per play and considered the new system and inexperienced players were the main reasons for NU’s relative struggles in the season opener. Rationalization can be a very powerful thing. In many ways I turned a blind eye toward their obvious shortcomings. But I absolutely believed they would come out and play much better in game #2. I did not, in any way, sense that Nebraska defensively would come out and get their doors blown off the way they did. It was completely inconceivable. Perhaps that makes me a homer. I’ll wear that label. This much is certain, the Husker defense was horrendous Saturday. There is no excuse for the sort of incompetence we experienced Saturday. None. It has been an absolute embarrassment of the highest order.

Bob Diaco drew sharp criticism from some for not talking to the media after the season opener. I thought that was overblown. I don’t really care if he does or not. What I do care about is a quality product. Diaco took the podium early in the week. He was defiant, even arrogant. He claimed his plan worked perfectly. He was not the least bit contrite about the performance against the Red Wolves. I was OK with that because to me it signaled that he was confident his unit would come out and perform well in this early season showdown. After getting boat raced Saturday, where is that bravado? I suggest that rather than playing Little Red Riding Hood, like he did last week, that he get to work and figure out what will make this defense work. I would not be surprised if Diaco privately was not pleased with the personnel available to him. That is fine. They were not recruited for this system, I would be shocked to learn that he was 100% happy with the tools at his disposal. But it doesn’t matter. Not one freaking bit. His job, for which he is paid handsomely, is to take the players on hand and mold them into a top defensive unit. To this point he has failed spectacularly. The proof is there for everyone to see. I don’t need to go over the gory details. He has to figure out a way to make this unit functional. I do not want to hear about youth in the secondary. Every team has inexperience in a variety of places. So what!! Coach them up. That is what you are paid so well to do. That secondary, which has been lauded by him personally several times, just got its ass pasted for 3 TD passes in the first half alone. I can only imagine the horrors of the 2nd half.

As we all know the NU defense came out and was a completely different unit after halftime. Adjustments were made and they were incredibly successful. I was shocked. Oregon failed to score in the 2nd half and the Husker D forced 2 turnovers and several 3 and outs.  They flew around and swarmed to the ball. Team defense and a commitment to stopping the run was there for everyone to see. The effort was outstanding, there is no other way to put it. Hopefully, this is a glimpse of what this defense can be. But it can’t be for just a half. You simply can’t spot a team 42 first half points and count on winning. This unit deserves a substantial amount of credit for the resolve they showed. It would have been easy to hang their heads and mail it in. I’ve seen that too many times. The grit showed enabled NU to get back into the game. However, the fact that it took until halftime, and 42 points to make the adjustments and collect themselves is appalling. Bob Diaco simply cannot sit and wait to adjust while the opposing offense lights up the scoreboard like the 4th of July. Also the total output for the Ducks is not acceptable, regardless of what was done in the 2nd half. 516 total yards including 11.1 yards per pass gets you beat every Saturday. Diaco has to figure out a number of issues with this unit. How can they successfully generate a pass rush? What to do about the secondary? How can they make adjustments on the fly? What about 3rd down defense, which was a sore spot on Saturday? Big money Bob has a whole lot of work in front of him. Lets hope he doesn’t wait until halfway through the season to do it.

The slow start absolutely killed the Huskers. It was 14-0 before you knew what happened. Husker heads were spinning far and wide. From there NU was behind the 8-ball all afternoon. That is not a winning recipe. I don’t know how good or bad Oregon is. Maybe they are a top shelf Pac-12 team that simply needed retooling. Maybe they are just a slightly above average team trying to find their way. Time will bear that out. But this is a game that NU wins if they make the proper defensive adjustments in a timely fashion. Some of the defenses troubles bled over to the offense. I have to believe that NU sticks with the run more if they weren’t shooting for the moon every possession. That contributed to 41 Tanner Lee passing attempts and 4 Ints. The offense has its own issues, worthy of its own column. But at this point I am far more concerned about this defense and what we saw in the first half. My optimism for this season was largely based on having an adequate defense. If the Huskers don’t have that, where does that leave them against one of the toughest schedules in the country? It could be a very long, and grueling fall.

 

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Only 1 Direction to Go…..

The good news is that the Nebraska Cornhuskers are 1-0. Go ahead and bask in that. Soak it in. Isn’t that nice? Go ahead and stop now. The bad news is substantially more complicated. The Big Red escaped Saturday night in their own building by the skin of their teeth. Just typing that makes me ill. The opponent, Arkansas State, was solid, but certainly nothing to be feared. This should have been a team that was easily dispatched, despite any shortcomings. Instead, this thing was a dogfight that went down to the very last play. Big Red was not good. It was an ugly, lopsided performance all the way around. There were bright spots everywhere, but nothing remotely consistent. This near loss should be a wake up call for the entire program. Sloppy efforts like this will result in losses and an awful season. If this team wishes to compete for a division or conference title it will have to grow up substantially, and quick. This team is far more of a work in progress than anyone would have guessed.

The Husker offense experienced its share of success Saturday. 31 points produced along with 463 yards of offense aren’t bad production. But it was the inability to take control of the game that was particularly troubling to me. Several times throughout the night NU took the ball with the opportunity to provide some space between themselves and the Red Wolves. Time and time again the Husker offense let that opportunity slip away. Whether it was penalties, other miscues, or questionable playcalls, this offense could not get out of their own way. It kept the door open for Arkansas State to stay in the game. It was infuriating. Put the damn thing away!!  Overall, the offense was not all bad. Tanner Lee was mostly sharp throughout the night with a few stunningly beautiful passes to NU receivers. Also, Tre Bryant ran for nearly 200 yards and averaged over 6 yards per carry. Those two facts should have meant that NU walked away with this one comfortably. That did not happen. The maddening thing, from my couch, was some of the play calls. Just when it seemed that the Huskers had a rhythm, the direction of the offense would change. I can think of a spot pass and an end around to Stanley Morgan that both failed and put the offense behind the chains. The result was haulted drives that kept ASU in the ballgame. This is simply not acceptable from a unit that experienced its share of success Saturday night.  The NU offense could have easily put this game away several times throughout the course of the night. Instead we got a dramatic, nail biting finish that was completely unnecessary.

After all the hoopla and hype, I was completely jacked to see this defense take the field. I did not know what to expect exactly. I thought we would see defenders flying around and being disruptive. What I got was a total dud. Nebraska, defensively was completely flacid. This unit created almost no pressure of any kind. Arkansas State was able to stay in the game with short, mostly uncontested, passes. The Nebraska secondary, for some unknown reason, was content to play off coverage and give ASU QB Justice Hansen free reign to complete these easy passes. Sound crazy? It absolutely was. I, frankly do not understand why Bob Diaco continually allowed ASU those easy throws against soft coverage. The Red Wolves did not complete a single deep ball that would scare you into playing soft coverage. Instead it was a steady diet of short, quick throws that kept NU off balance. Give ASU credit for a solid game plan. They had a wide variety of quick looks that Nebraska was not at all prepared for. But also take the NU coaching staff to task for not properly adjusting. I kept waiting for press coverage. While there was some of it, they never stuck with it. In fairness, there were stretches where the Husker D appeared to have a handle on things, but like the offense it never lasted. There was zero consistency. As a result we were all left holding our breath as Arky State had one final down from the 10 with an opportunity to tie the game. While that situation was not solely the responsibility of the defense, they sure didn’t do a damn thing to prevent it.

This was one of the very worst season openers that I can remember. The 2013 opener against a horrendous Wyoming team was definitely worse. But this was bad.  Really bad. Embarrassing. The defense that we have been waiting so long to see went over like a fart in church. Offensively, they were never able to seize control of the game despite their various successes. The game management too was awful. Nobody deserves a pass for this near catastrophe. This team has to get its act together, and fast. A trip to Oregon is next week. The Ducks would love to eat NU’s lunch and repay them for the loss in Lincoln. This defense, in particular, needs to get it together otherwise this team could easily get its doors blown off. Beyond that there are much bigger games on the schedule. This team has to improve substantially. They say the biggest jump for a team is between games one and two. Lets hope that jump covers the damn Grand Canyon after the performance we seen Saturday night. If it doesn’t, it could be a long fall.

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2017 Nebraska Cornhusker Defensive Preview

They say fortune favors the bold. If that is true then Mike Riley is due for a few lucky breaks going into his 3rd year in Lincoln. Riley shook up his staff in a major way last winter firing lifelong friend Mark Banker and hiring hot shot DC Bob Diaco. It would have been easy for Riley to stick with Banker. The defense made significant strides in 2016 and while it wasn’t the 85 Bears, it was more than adequate. There were a few games that the defense held up the offense. Then there were games like Ohio State, Iowa and Tennessee where the defense, like the offense, was absolutely overwhelmed. This prompted a move that nobody saw coming. January 11th Riley called Banker and told him he would not be retained. The hunt was on. Riley found a fit in newly unemployed Bob Diaco who has a rich track record of producing top defensive units. The two met and mutually agreed that it would be a good fit. The NU brass opened up the pocketbook to make Diaco the highest paid assistant in Nebraska Football history. Clearly, this is a move that took vision. Diaco’s defensive scheme is extremely versatile which will be useful in a league like the Big 10 that sees such a variety of offensive attacks. As usual, there is no time for a learning curve in Lincoln. Expectations exist and Diaco must get this unit up to speed and in a hurry. How he teaches his scheme and molds it to the talent on hand will ultimately determine how successful this team can be.

Defensive Line

I really like this group. Going forward, the defensive line is going to be a strength of this defense. It all starts with #44 Big Mick Stoltenburg. He is mountain on the interior. At 6-5, 315 the Gretna product will be counted on to soak up blocks and wreak havoc. He is the cornerstone for this defensive line. Junior Freedom Akinmoladun led the team in sacks in 2016 and while his numbers need to improve, he has potential aplenty. Then there are the Davis twins, Carlos and Khalil. Every report I read from camp has something complimentary to say about one or both of them. The term explosive is routinely used. The twins will be the breakout stars of 2017 and are the future of this defensive unit. Peyton Newell, Daishon Neal, Ben Stille and true Freshman Deontre Thomas will provide solid depth on the defensive line. The greatest variable for the defensive line is how they will adjust to the new scheme. Not all 3-4/multiple schemes are the same. Some require their defensive linemen to basically wrestle with O-lineman and let the linebackers make all the plays. From what I have seen from Diaco’s days at Notre Dame and Connecticut, that is not the approach the D-line will take. I look for this unit to rotate heavily and be disruptive. A big reason for my bullish disposition is DL coach John Parella. I’m a bit biased, being from the same high school, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about the job he is doing both on the recruiting trail and on the practice field. We saw returns last season when his unit more than held their own despite being substantially undermanned. I think Parella is a rising star in this business and I’m pleased he is on this staff. His mantra of “All gas, no brakes” is perfectly suited for this program and his energy is second to none. This defensive line may be overlooked going into 2017, but I suspect that will change, and quickly.

Linebackers

This is where the success or failure of the newly installed defense will lie. This unit has far and away the most question marks. Inside Dedrick Young and Chris Weber look to be the starters. Weber, in particular, is a program guy who the coaches trust, but must step up big time. He had just 17 tackles in a smaller role last fall. He will need to have a big jump in production to keep that job. Avery Roberts and Mo Barry backup those two in the middle. Both have sizable potential and could push for playing time should either Weber or Young prove ineffective. On the outside for Big Red, Luke Gifford and Marcus Newby man one spot. Those 2 are the best tandem the LB unit has to offer. I’m not worried about them.  Both bring experience and athleticism. Diaco and LB coach Trent Bray will get good production between those 2. The other side is a major unknown. Reports have Alex Davis getting reps with the 1st team. He has a terrific frame at 6-5 255 but played last year as a pass rush specialist at DE. Also, Davis has limited experience playing the game of football. According to his NU bio, he only started playing football his Sr. year of high school!! So by my count this is his 4th year, and we are counting on him to be our starting OLB. That makes me very queasy. Sedrick King, who has limited experience as well will back him up. This unit makes me nervous. While there are some returning experience, there isn’t a lot of production. This unit badly needs the emergence of a star. Someone fans and coaches can look to to lead this defense. Could it be Weber? Young? Gifford? It is a major question make for this team. This is where Bray and Diaco will earn their pay this fall.

Defensive Backs

It pains me to write about the defensive backs because I am immediately reminded of Chris Jones’ injury. I was looking for Jones to have an outrageous season and move up draft boards. I feel terribly for him. In his absence I am pleased with what remains. CB Lamar Jackson is long and lanky with all the potential you could ask for. Eric Lee on the other side is equally promising. There was talk of making a place on the field for Lee even with Jones in the lineup. I feel good about these two as well as Dicaprio Bootle, who has made a bid for playing time. In the wake of the Jones injury I was very concerned about the CB situation, but at this point my mind is at ease. Tony Butler has moved from Safety for depth as will Avery Anderson. CB is in good shape and if Jones were to return, it will be even better. You can’t have too many good cover corners. Safety is in great hands with Aaron Williams and Josh Kalu. You will remember Kalu from his role as a CB the last 3 seasons. Diaco praised Kalu recently, calling him All-American caliber. I don’t know about that. Perhaps the new DC was trying to pump up one of his Sr. leaders. I’m not sure. I really don’t see a scenario where Kalu could earn that kind of acclaim. Still, I expect a solid FS, capable of covering whoever is thrown at him. We also know he can tackle. Safety is a good fit for someone with Kalu’s skill set. I also trust Aaron Williams and Kieron Williams back there. Safety is in really good hands between those 3. They will be counted on to coordinate the defense and make the correct adjustments. They are also capable of making big plays. The 3 of them combined for 9 Ints last year. Safety may be the strongest position this team has to offer. While I do not expect anyone to make the All-American team, I do think these defensive backs will the backbone of this defense. There may be some growing pains from the corners, but by Halloween this entire group should be fast and disruptive. They will be loads of fun to watch.

Key Themes for the 2017 Defense

How is the install going? Surely Diaco’s defensive scheme and principles can’t be fully implemented in less than a calendar year. So how does he simplify things so that this defense can be successful this season? I’m sure he has an answer. He better. Diaco has been very complimentary of this team to this point, but I am not sure that means anything. How many mental mistakes are made by a unit that has yet to play a game within this new system? Breakdowns result in big plays and points. That could cost games. How much of that kind of thing we see could be the difference in a good or bad season.

Can NU improve their sub par pash rush numbers? I feel like I ask this every year. Last year Big Red had 26 sacks. That is tied for 65th nationally with the likes of Army and Middle Tennessee and behind powerhouses like UTSA and 4-8 Misery. Yuck!! 2015 was even worse with 24 sacks. The term horrendous comes to mind. You can blame Mark Banker’s scheme if you wish, but I won’t. I thought Banker drew up several interesting looks last year that produced pressure. NU was simply not getting to the QB without some kind of blitz. No doubt, Bob Diaco has ideas of his own for how to create pressure up front. But some of it comes down to winning individual battles. Beat the man in front of you!! There simply hasn’t been enough of that in the last couple of years. If NU wants to make a move toward contention in the Big 10 this has to change and in a big time way.

The buzz word out of camp is energy. Energy from the coaches, the players, from Diaco himself. The BTN crew noticed it on their visit and Riley has mentioned it several times in interviews. It is even palpable in the interviews with players. Energy is a very positive sign that things are going well for this defense. As we are so often reminded, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Will the grind of the regular season wear down that energy? Will the team run out of juice before the meat of the schedule arrives? It is something to keep an eye on.

The Chris Jones saga. Personally, I am not counting on him at all. I think it is best to think of it that way. If he does get back, great. That is all gravy. Jones himself has made it a point to be seen by the media not walking with crutches or wearing a knee brace. I question how much of that is authentic. Jones is a competitor, a team leader. You love that about the guy. But at some point it is counter productive. If he is not physically ready to play I would rather him stay on the sidelines. We will not hear the end of this. It will be a lingering storyline throughout the year. Again, I remain extremely skeptical about his return or the quality of play if he does.

Schedule Analysis/Season Prediction

This schedule is a Bear. An absolute bear. It is very possible that NU could be better in a number of areas and still come away with a worse record than it had a year ago. For starters there are 3, yes 3, teams on NU’s schedule in the preseason top 10!!  I am not sure any schedule in the country can make that claim. Ohio State and Wisconsin come to Lincoln, while Big Red takes its show on the road to Happy Valley the week before Thanksgiving. We all know that Ohio State is playing on a different level than Nebraska. But Wisconsin has beaten NU by a combined 8 points the last 2 seasons. I expect that game to be a dogfight, and it is in Lincoln. I like Big Red’s chances. There is also a week 2 trip to Eugene Oregon to take on the Ducks. That is a team that will be much better. We will see how quickly NU can adapt to its new scheme/personnel. That game is a coin toss. Throw in visits from Northwestern and Iowa and a trip to the twin cities and it is easy to see, this season will be no cakewalk. The Huskers are going to have to get it together and fast and avoid major injury at critical positions. While the schedule is rough, I do not expect this season to go in the toilet. I’ll spoil the fun and say NU isn’t a contender for the playoff, but I do think a quality season that this program can build upon is on the table. The floor is 6-6. That would be awful and would make me question the leadership of this program. I don’t think that will happen. If NU catches a few breaks I could see the ceiling being 10-11 wins. That would be glorious. The planets would have to align just perfectly. This too is unlikely. I will say this team will perform closer to the ceiling than the floor. Give me Big Red to win 9 games, with losses to Ohio State and some combination of Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa, Oregon and Northwestern. The record could be 8-4 pretty easily, but I’ll call for Big Red to go 3-2 in the previously mentioned games. No Big 10 West title. That will go to Wisconsin. A more favorable schedule gives them the firm edge over the Huskers. Still, this will be a quality season that ramps up toward next fall where I believe NU will contend for a playoff spot.

Thanks for reading, and of course GO BIG RED!!

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Big Loss For Big Red

A seemingly calm and relaxing Saturday afternoon nap was shattered with some truly horrible news. Chris Jones, Nebraska’s top CB, and my personal favorite defensive player is out 4-6 months with a bad knee injury. This is a major blow to the whole defensive unit. A unit who is already short on playmakers. Jones is a true ballhawk who was poised for a big fall before this setback. Jones’ absence leaves most of us scratching out head. This injury has a ripple effect on the defensive backfield, but it also poses an interesting question about Jones’ career path. It’s very possible we never see him in scarlet and cream again.

I’ve heard plenty of talk about moving Josh Kalu from Free Safety back to corner where he has played his 3 previous seasons in Lincoln. I could, potentially, get behind this. But there are a few factors. First, how do you feel about Eric Lee? Cornerbacks coach Donte Williams was quick to heap praise on Lee for his play this spring. If you feel good about Lee at that spot, lets see what he can do. Secondly, the eligibility of incoming recruit Elijah Blades is in jeapordy. Blades is still not in Lincoln and you have to wonder if he ever will be. Lets assume Blades does not qualify, who does NU for depth purposes? Dicaprio Bootle and Tony Butler are both young players who have yet to see action. Boaz Joseph has been a fixture on the 2-deep, but is light on experience. Are any of them ready for a role of any considerable size? If not, you really have to look hard at Kalu. Finally, how does Josh Kalu feel about it? I really dislike moving players repeatedly. Its not good for their development. Kalu has spent upwards of 6 months getting ready to play Free Safety in NU’s new 3-4 scheme. It is unfair to completely shift gears and expect him to play CB and not miss a beat. If he is alright with the switch, and you don’t feel good about the others, then do it. If he is even the least bit apprehensive, I keep him at Free Safety and get the youngsters ready to play.

This weekend on twitter, Chris Jones implied that he will beat the 4-6 month timetable. While I appreciate the attitude and enthusiasm Jones possesses, I don’t think its a good idea. This is his future we are talking about. He needs to do whatever it takes to get right in order to continue his career, whether it’s in Lincoln or in the NFL. I remember when Jerry Rice blew his knee out it 1997, rushed to get back, only to further injure it. I don’t want to see that happen with Jones. He needs to do what is best for him. There is some thought that he has a redshirt season to burn. So he sits out 2017, gets his knee in order, and comes back in 2018. If that is what is best for him, great. If he determines that going to the draft is his best path, fine. It is possible that Jones could rejoin the team after 4 months and be available for Penn State, Iowa, maybe Minnesota and the bowl game. Is that worth it for him? Again, I leave that up to him to decide. Personally, if I were him I would look long and hard at getting back to 100% and getting ready for workouts in preparation of the draft.

Let’s not mince words. This is a disastrous injury. One of the best players on this team is lost for  75% of the season, in all likelihood. That stinks. The hires of Bob Diaco and Donte Williams were roundly applauded by the Big Red faithful. Both bring serious moxy to the coaching staff. Well, the honeymoon is over for both of them. Diaco will more than likely have to adjust the way he calls defenses without a rock solid, lock down, playmaking corner on one side. Williams is charged with the task of getting youngsters ready to play, and in a hurry. What if there is another injury at that position? We have seen Williams recruit, but can he develop the talent on hand? If NU doesn’t have corners ready to play, Big 10 quarterbacks could have a field day. How much does that change the outlook of the 2017 season?

 

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4 Questions for Nebraska Football in 2017

Will A More Suitable Fit at QB = Greater Production and Efficiency?
For all the love that Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf showered upon Tommy Armstrong last year, it’s clear that he was not their ideal QB. Langsdorf’s offense tried to cater to Armstrong’s strengths, with some success, but overall the offense was inconsistent at best. Against Big 10 competition, the Nebraska offense ranked 11th in points per game, 9th in rushing, 8th in passing, and 12th in completion percentage. That will simply not do if this program wants to contend for anything other than the Taxslayer.com bowl. Incoming QB Tanner Lee has drawn a substantial amount of praise from those inside and outside the program. Many say he has a prototypical NFL size and arm strength. Whatever. Will his physical attributes make for a better Husker offense?  It is clear he is a better fit for the type of offense Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf like to run. That counts for something. How much remains to be seen. Tommy Armstrong struggled with reads, at times with accuracy and always with the short pass. He only completed 51% of his passes, for just 7.4 yards per attempt and less than a 2-1 TD to Int ratio. I don’t want to beat up on Tom. He was a warrior for this program. 2016 would have been awful without him. But going forward, at least statistically, there is plenty of room for improvement from that position. It is put up or shut up time, particularly for Langsdorf.  This offense needs to be both more consistent and more productive. If substantial improvement is not seen, perhaps its time to show Riley’s buddy Dan to the door.

 

Can Stan Morgan Become an All Big 10 Caliber Receiver?
The Nebraska offense lost a boatload of WR talent from its 2016 squad. Gone are Alonzo Moore, Brandon Reilly and all-timer Jordan Westercamp. Those 3 combined for 1,313 yards and 9 of NU’s 14 receiving TDs. Yikes!! Filling those shoes will be no easy task. Nebraska is incredibly thin at that position. What this offense needs is a certifiable stud on the outside. Someone who can cause opposing DCs to wet the bed preparing for the game with NU. Fortunately for Nebraska fans, there is a capable player on this roster. Stanley Morgan has the tools, the physical stature, and the moxy of an alpha male #1 WR. For all the good things you can say about Tommy Armstrong, he tended to lock onto his favorite receivers. For the better part of his first 2 seasons, that has not been Morgan. Rest assured Morgan will be getting plenty of targets this fall. He has to. This offense needs for him to come through and be the true thoroughbred that I feel he can be. Morgan caught 33 passes for 453 yards, and just 2 TDs last fall.  This offense may need him to double his catches and yards and triple his TDs. Provided he stays healthy, he will have every opportunity. Will he make the most of it and become the true playmaker this offense sorely needs? It sure would be nice.

Will This Offensive Line Continue to Be a Liability?
I’m going to be straight with you. The offensive line was a big part of the problem in 2016. The lack of a consistent running game was a big reason why NU struggled against top level competition. Consider that 6 times last year NU averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry. Specifically, the Huskers averaged just 3.2 ypc against Wyoming, 3.4 @Indiana, 2.9 in a beatdown to Iowa, and 2.2 in the bowl game. Thats right, 2.2 yards per carry against Tennessee!! Are you sick yet? Those numbers are enough to make anyone’s milk curdle. Overall, Nebraska ranked 9th in the league in run offense despite a substantial commitment and running QB. That’s not good enough. Believe it or not it could have been worse. I will say Tommy Armstrong’s allusiveness prevented both sacks and gained rushing yards. Too often he was the crutch that Danny Langsdorf leaned upon. That crutch will no longer be there. This line needs to stand on its own two feet. Push some folks around. Assert their will do some degree. Depth will, in theory, be improved. Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh redshirted at least 3 players last year that will be on the 2 deep come September 2. That may not have been wise, but that train has long left the station. That’s a topic for another time. The fact is that this unit should have better depth this fall. But will that translate to more production/better protection. Tanner Lee will not be scrambling like Tommy Armstrong. They will need to protect him. Armstrong was as good as I’ve ever seen at alluding a rush.  Lee may not be a sack of potatoes, but he wont be evading a rush the way Tom did. Obviously, a solid running game would be beneficial. 152 yards on 44 attempts against your chief rival (Wisconsin) does not qualify. It’s reasonable to believe that NU’s, uh, experience should pay dividends in 17. That is true. But it is also true that a repeat performance will spell doom for this offense and most likely this team.

The Defense
Admittedly, this is a total cop out. This portion is a catch all for everything on one particular side of the ball. But its appropriate.  As of today we know absolutely nothing about this defense, beyond the roster. Bob Diaco has taken over and installed his versatile 3-4 scheme that was such a huge success at Notre Dame. This is a great hire. I applaud Mike Riley for making a change and going out and getting the top defensive mind available. Arkansas was hot for Diaco, but Riley (and the NU pocketbook) lured in a big fish. Beautiful!! Great news!! But we have no idea how NU’s current defensive roster will fare within the scheme. We have not seen any of these players in a 3-4. The roles and assignments are different all the way around. We do know that Chris Jones is pretty awesome. Aaron Williams is a ball hawk. Big Mick Stoltenberg is a load in the middle.  We know the players on hand. That’s about it. What we don’t know is how it will all come together. If Diaco comes in and works miracles, and this unit becomes a top unit in the Big 10, the ceiling for this season goes up dramatically. If this whole thing is a god damn dumpster fire, this team could struggle to win 6 games. The swing is that great. I personally don’t have a feel for this one way or the other. We saw absolutely nothing from the defense in the spring game. If you came up with something from that dog and pony show, it is a total fabrication of your imagination. The questions about this particular unit are plenty. Will this pass rush be able to generate consistent pressure? If so, from where? How will the defensive line will adjust to their new roles? How will Josh Kalu fare at Free Safety? Will this versatile defense be able to adjust to the vast array of offenses NU will see this fall? Let me make this plain. I trust Diaco. I really like this hire. He’s our guy. He is the kind of top shelf assistant all staff’s need. But as of today this defense as a whole is an enormous question. It could go to either extreme or anywhere in between. It’s that large of a variable. One that likely wont be fully answered until somewhere around Halloween.

follow on twitter: @jakeanderson884